Cades Cove Hiking Trails
On the Abrams Falls trail, the Smokies visitors gets to enjoy the majesty of the Smoky Mountains, rhododendron lined footpaths, as well as the twenty-foot Abrams Falls. The total hike is five miles in length (roundtrip) and climbs approximately three hundred and forty feet up the mountains of Cades Cove.
To get to the Abrams Falls trailhead, go five miles on the Cades Cove Loop Road and after crossing Abrams Creek, turn right on a gravel road which runs through a grassy field. Park at the back of the field where there are signs and a marvelous wooden bridge that mark the beginning of the hike.
The trailhead to Ace Gap trail is down Cades Cove loop and up Rich Mountain Road. Near the trailhead, Smokies hikers pass Bull Cave, the largest cave in Cades Cove. The bottom of the cave is fully five hundred feet from the surface almost straight down.
Smokies hikers on the Ace Gap trail will ascend from the Cades Cove floor past the mouth of the cave. Once beyond the cave, the trail meanders five miles along the ridges of Rich Mountain to the place known as Ace Gap. Ace Gap was so named for card playing loggers that once congregated there. You will know you have come to Ace Gap when you come to an old railroad bed. Logging trains once clacked along railroad tracks all over Cades Cove during the expansion of the United States. Cades Cove and many other parts of the country yielded up virgin forests while filling a seemingly endless demand for lumber for homes, buildings and bridges. The trains which once traveled along the Ace Gap track were owned by the Little River Lumber Company and carried equipment, loggers and logs through Cades Cove.
Anthony Creek Trail
Anthony Creek Trail also features the headwaters of Anthony Creek. The popular Cades Cove trail also goes by the horse camp, a delight to horsemen as well as goes by backcountry camp sites. Due in part to the location of the trailhead, the Anthony Creek Trail is one of the most traveled in Cades Cove.
On the climb up the Bote Mountain trail, Smokies hikers can envision James Spence and the Cades Cove farmer’s cattle he tended climbing the slopes in yesteryear. Driving the cattle on such a climb must have been difficult, but the grass at the higher elevations made the effort worthwhile. Nutritionally, the high mountain grass was better for the cattle than that found on the Cades Cove valley floor. In addition, the cattle faired better at the higher location due to a considerable reduction in heat and flies.
Many a Smokies hiker who hiked up the Bote Mountain trail has come to look upon James Spence as a lucky man, for he spent so much of his life overlooking Cades Cove from his mountain paradise. From Spence Field today, trees are cleared so those Smokies hikers see Cades Cove, Lake Fontana, Rocky Top and other notable landmarks of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. By reason of its view alone, Bote Mountain trail is one of the most rewarding to originate in Cades Cove.
Cades Cove Nature Trail
On the Cades Cove Nature trail you can see what remains of what was once a thick chestnut grove in the 1800’s. Almost one third of the forest surrounding Cades Cove’s was made up of Chestnut trees at that time. Chestnut groves were used so advantageously by both Cades Cove mountain farmers and wildlife alike. Now only chestnut sprouts grow from the vast chestnut root system of the giant trees which were once plentiful in Cades Cove. Today the large trees growing along the Cades Cove Nature Trail are primarily oak, dogwood, sourwood, and pine trees.
What killed the chestnut trees of Cades Cove? They were hit by a blight which killed chestnut trees throughout the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, taking with them long standing traditions of mountain men and wildlife alike. The groves were an integral part of the mountain people’s yearly life cycle. Mountain farmers used the groves to fatten hogs for slaughter and to gather them for human and livestock use or sale. In Cades Cove, bears once used to frequent the majestic stands of chestnuts trees that were a main source of fall mast. The chestnuts allowed GSMNP bears easy access to high calories as they tried to fatten themselves for hibernation. Today, acorns take the place of chestnuts in Smoky Mountain Black bear diet, but is considered a poor substitute by park officials.
If you hike or ride the Cooper Road trail in Cades Cove, you will follow in the footsteps European descent pioneers and Native Americans alike as the Cooper Road trail follows a Smoky Mountain Indian trail that was later improved into a road in the 1830’s. Daniel Foute made a white man who obtained great sections in Cades Cove and then sold it to the settlers the improvements a white man who obtained great sections in Cades Cove and then sold it to the settlers. In the 1840’s, the road was renamed for Joe Cooper who improved the road for wagon travel in the cove. Cooper road was the best way to for pioneers who lived in the west part of the cove to get through the Smokies to Maryville.
Early Smokies pioneers in Cades Cove grew, made, or hunted just about anything they might want or need and so a trip to Maryville did not need to be made too often. The cove residents went to town for reasons such as, to go to Crawford and Caldwell hardware store or to go to a doctor or to visit a family member. Some others collected chestnuts in one of the many chestnut groves that were prevalent in Cades Cove in those days. After bushels of chestnuts were gathered, a trip from the cove to Maryville would insure a good market for the chestnut crop.
Crib Gap Trail
Crib Gap trail begins on the left side of the Cades Cove Picnic ground and ends as it crosses the Turkeypen Ridge Trail, approximately one and a half miles away. The beginning of Crib Gap trail follows Anthony Creek. As are all the lowlands in Cades Cove, the part of the trail by Anthony Creek is a bit muddy. Hemlocks, so common in the Smoky Mountains grow thickly along the creek but as the trail rises, the hiker climbs to a much dryer pine and oak forest.
Gregory Bald Hiking Trail
On the way to Gregory’s Bald, Smokies hikers will go through Sam’s Gap, Panther Gap, and Sheep Pen Gap Backcountry Campsite. From Gregory’s bald there are magnificent views of Cades Cove as well as other surrounding landmarks. The Gregory Bald trail continues past the mountain meadow until it ends at the Appalachian Trail. Ambitious Smokies visitors can hike on to the Appalachian Trail, however keep in mind it is seven and a half miles from the trailhead. A hard days hike is eight to ten miles, so going all the way to the Appalachian trail and back is definitely not a day hike.
To get to the Gregory Bald trail, go down the Cades Cove Loop to the Visitor Center at Cable Mill and follow the signs to Parsons Branch Road. Sam’s Gap where the Gregory Bald Hiking Trail begins is five miles down Parsons Branch Road.
Gregory Ridge Hiking Trail
Gregory Ridge Trail is a good choice if you want your hike’s destination to have a good view of Cades Cove. So many Smokies visitors hike up the Gregory’s Ridge trail for that reason, that it is one of the most popular trails in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The trail winds through some of the best of GSMNP, delightful old growth forest and azalea covered Gregory’s Bald. In azalea season the experience of Gregory’s bald is unmatched, for it is ablaze with breathtaking masses of orange and wine colored blooms, but in the days of old, Cades Cove farmers used to graze their cattle on Gregory’s bald, cattle being one of their best cash crops.
To get to the Gregory Ridge trailhead, turn right out of the Cable Mill area parking lot and proceed to Parson Branch road. The parking area marked Gregory Ridge Trail is about five miles down at Sam’s Gap. Gregory Ridge trail is one of Cades Cove’s most strenuous climbs being four and a half miles up the mountain, but it is well worth the effort.
Long before the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was formed, Cherokee Indians working for Daniel Foute dug Hannah Mountain trail in the 1840’s. He was the owner of the Montvale Resort on Chilhowee Mountain. Foute’s purpose in building the trail was to connect his resort to beautiful Gregory’s Bald. His trail to Gregory’s Bald was a powerful draw for his resort, especially when the azaleas were blooming in the meadows above Cades Cove. The popularity of the Hannah Mountain trail was in part responsible for the resorts long life, bringing Smokies tourists to the mountain meadows of Cades Cove for better than one hundred years.
To get to Hannah Mountain trail you must take the Cades Cove Loop past Cable Mill area. Follow the signs to Forge Creek Road that runs into Parson Branch Road. Travel approximately four miles to the trailhead.
Getting Back to Cades Cove, GSMNP and the tourist areas from Parsons Branch Road.
To GSMNP, Walland and Townsend, TN.
After hiking the trails up Parsons Branch Road, it will be necessary to continue driving away from Cades Cove on Parson Branch Road as it is a one way road out of the park. Parson Branch Road ends on highway 129. To return to the Smoky Mountain tourist areas, turn right on highway 129. Next turn right on Foothills Parkway at Chillowee Lake. Travel on Foothills Parkway five to ten minutes going all the way until it ends on highway 321. Turn left if going to Walland, Tennessee. Turn right on highway 321 to proceed to Townsend, TN. Go straight through Townsend to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Back to Gatlinburg:
The road through Townsend becomes highway 73 part way through town. Highway 73 comes to a stop inside GSMNP at what is called the wye, a portion of road shaped like a “y”. A left turn at the wye takes you toward Gatlinburg on highway 73 and Little River Road. Just past Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn left on Newfound Gap Road and travel a mile or so to Gatlinburg.
Back To Cades Cove Campground:
If going back to the Cades Cove campground, go straight through Townsend all the way back into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Continue straight until you come to the wye (end of the road) just inside GSMNP. Turn right on to Laurel Creek Road. It will take you back to the Cades Cove campground. The Campground will be on your left as you enter the cove.
Back To Wears Valley and Pigeon Forge:
If going to Pigeon Forge from Townsend, turn left on Wears Valley Road. You will be traveling towards the west, away from Cades Cove. You will go through some mountains and Wears Valley. Turn right at the end of Wears Valley Road onto the Pigeon Forge parkway.
The Hatcher Mountain trail is an easy climb, gaining only seven hundred twenty feet in elevation and taking only an hour and a half to complete. One way to get to the Hatcher Mountain trail is to walk four miles from the Cades Cove floor up the Abrams Falls trail to the Abrams Falls campground.
The Hatcher Mountain trail provides a delightful departure from the more congested Cades Cove hike, the Abrams Falls trail. Though the Hatcher Mountain trail doesn’t end in a splendid waterfall, it has it’s own beauty and character. For this reason, many Smokies visitors wishing to hike in Cades Cove choose the Hatcher Mountain trail spur as a good alternative to continuing on the more popular and crowded Abrams Falls trail. The Hatcher Mountain trail ends when it intersects with the Cooper Road and Beard Cane trails.
Another interesting way to hike Cades Cove via the Hatcher Mountain trail is to use it as part of a loop trail that also includes the Cooper Road trail and the Little Bottoms trail. Contact officials at the Great Smoky Mountain Visitors Center at the Cades Cove campground for details.
To get to the Hatcher Mountain trail, take the Cades Cove Loop five miles just past Abrams creek to a field with a road running through it. There are a number of hikes originating from that location, so you can probably spot the right place just by seeing other cars come in and out. Drive to the rear of the field and park. Follow the signs to the Abrams Falls trail. Go 4.2 miles on the Abrams Falls trail to the Hatcher Mountain trailhead.
Indian Grave Gap
The last part of this Cades Cove hiking trail is significant as part of the Rich Mountain Loop trail.
Getting back to the tourist areas of GSMNP from Rich Mountain Road
Rich Mountain Road is a one-way road to the border of GSMNP, north of Cades Cove and is a two-way road afterwards. To get back to Cades Cove Campground, continue on Rich Mountain Road all the way until it ends at highway 321. Turn left on 321 to Walland or turn right to Townsend.
Once in Townsend, 321 turns left onto Wears Valley Road. That road goes through Wears Valley and ends in Pigeon Forge on the parkway.
To get to Cades Cove Campground or Gatlinburg from Townsend do not turn off the main road through Townsend when 321 turns left. Instead keep going straight through Townsend. You will be on highway 73 that will shortly run into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Highway 73 will turn left about a mile inside the park at what is known as the wye. The left turn at the wye will take you down Little River Road toward Sugarlands Visitors Center and Gatlinburg. A right turn at the wye will take you down Laurel Creek Road and back into Cades Cove, where Cades Cove Campground will be on your immediate left.
This trail is a little different than most of the hikes in this section as the destination not the origination is Cades Cove. Take US 321 from Maryville until you come to Foothill Parkway. Turn right and go to U.S. 129 and turn left. Drive a hundred yards or so and turn left on Happy Valley Road. Travel to the Happy Valley Loop Road and turn right. About a mile down the road you will find parking for the Cooper Road Trail. You must travel a short distance down the Cooper Road trail to reach the Little Bottoms hiking trail. The Cooper Road trail begins at the far end of the campground. Follow the Cooper Road Trail to the Cooper Road Backcountry campground. On the right of the Cooper Road campsite, you will find the beginning of the Little Bottoms hiking trail. Follow the Little Bottoms trail to the Abrams Falls trail and hike it down into Cades Cove. This trail is not well defined so know it is not for novices and even experienced hikers should take proper precautions. Turn around and retrace your steps if you lose the trail.
Rabbit Creek Hiking Trail
Rabbit Creek follows the path of a road that once was used to get in and out of Cades Cove. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park service maintains this road as a hiking trail. To get to Rabbit Creek trail, follow the Cades Cove Loop Road to the back of the cove, about five miles. You will cross Abrams Creek and then take a right through a field. Drive to the rear of the field and park. There will be a path and signs pointing out several hikes, one of which is the Rabbit Creek Hiking Trail.
Rich Mountain Loop Trail
You will notice many fields cleared on this end of Cades Cove. The fields that were cleared by the pioneers would have been reclaimed by forest were it not for efforts of The Great Smoky Mountain National Park service which keeps some fields in Cades Cove clear to show Smokies visitors how the cove looked during the 1800’s.
The Rich Mountain Loop trail is a moderately difficult hike, following three of the many Indian trails in Cades Cove to make a loop. The Rich Mountain Loop trailhead is a short distance down Cades Cove Loop Road from the parking and information area.
To follow the Rich Mountain Loop, begin at the trailhead of the Rich Mountain Loop trail. After walking one half mile you will need too veer left at the junction with the Crooked Arm Ridge trail to stay on Rich Mountain Loop trail. After a good bit of walking–two and a half miles, you will next go right when the Rich Mountain Loop trail intersects the Indian Grave Gap trail. Hike about one mile on the Indian Grave Gap trail and then go right on the Crooked Arm Ridge trail. In about two miles the Crooked Arm trail will intersect with the Rich Mountain trail one half mile from the beginning of the hike. The Rich Mountain Loop trail is 8.5 miles long and accommodates both horses and hikers.
Rich Mountain Trail
Rich Mountain Trail Alternatives:
If you are hiking with a friend and come in two cars you have a couple of alternatives when hiking the Rich Mountain trail. To utilize them one person needs to leave their car at the parking area for the Rich Mountain Loop trail that is near the beginning of the Cades Cove Loop. Next both of you drive up Rich Mountain to the Rich Mountain trailhead. Hike the Rich Mountain trail down to the Indian Gap trail. At this point you can turn either left or right on Indian Gap.
Left on Indian Gap trail:
If you turn left on the Indian Gap trail, take a right at the Crooked Arm Ridge trail. Hike Crooked Arm Ridge trail down to the Rich Mountain Loop trail, bearing left. That will take you back to the Cades Cove Loop Road close to the Rich Mountain Loop trail.
Right on Indian Gap trail:
If you turn right on the Indian Gap, turn left onto the Rich Mountain Loop trail and hike it all the way down to the Cades Cove Loop Road. You will see the trailhead and your friend’s car.
The Russell Field Trailhead is in the Cades Cove picnic area, just before the Cades Cove Loop Road. The trail winds through old growth hemlocks and follows the left prong of Anthony Creek. Along the way this Smoky Mountain trail goes by ideal campsites for those planning to camp in GSMNP. Once you reach the summit of Russell Field the view is wonderful, but some Smokies visitors are disappointed that trees obscure some of the view of the Cades Cove floor. These trees were not present in the 1800’s. Fewer trees allowed for more grass for the cattle and more views of the surrounding area for those tending the cattle. Though the Great Smoky Mountain National Park officials are allowing some of the trees to grow back, they are still committed to maintaining most of the bald as a historical field.
To reach the Scott Mountain trail, take the Cades Cove Loop Road to the trailhead of the Rich Mountain Loop trail, which is near the orientation shelter at the beginning of the cove. Walk one half mile up the Rich Mountain Loop trail and bear right on the Crooked Arm Ridge trail. Two and a half to three miles up the Crooked Arm Ridge trail there will be an intersection with the Scott Mountain trail. Turn right onto it. Keep in mind when choosing a hike in Cades Cove that a difficult day of hiking is six to eight miles for most people in good shape and that this hike together with the effort to reach it is about seven miles one way.
The Wet Bottom trail follows Abrams Creek and can be, as its name implies, a bit marshy. All of the low-lying areas in the far end of Cades Cove are prone to be water logged. The early settlers avoided building their farms in the marshy end but did use its cane breaks to protect their cattle in the wintertime. Eventually, people also settled even the marshy end of Cades Cove. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park service preserved one of their homesteads, the Elijah Oliver Place. If you want, follow the signs near the beginning of the Wet Bottom trail to take a side trip to see Elijah Oliver’s homestead before continuing on the Wet Bottom trail as far as you like. When you think you’ve gone far enough turn around and retrace your steps back to the parking area and the Cades Cove Loop.